If you ask me - Tom Holehan
Long Wharf Concludes Season with Mini-Musical
One of the most produced "pocket musicals" in the country, "The Last Five Years" currently serves as the closing production at Long Wharf Theatre. In what has been a rather tepid 49th season for the venerable New Haven venue, this two-character mini-musical is a well-directed and mostly pleasing finale.
Composer Jason Robert Brown had one of his few commercial hits with "The Last Five Years". The author/composer was not as successful with his "Parade" or, more recently, "The Bridges of Madison County,” both of which had abbreviated runs on Broadway. “Five Years” has achieved almost cult status now and is very popular particularly in the regional theatre circuit where the bottom line is budget. If nothing else, it’s certainly a welcome alternative to yet another installment of the “Nunsense” franchise.
“The Last Five Years” begins at the end of a relationship and then cleverly cross-cuts back and forth from the differing perspectives of its two characters: up-and-coming author Jamie (Adam Halpin) and struggling actress Cathy (Katie Rose Clarke). Predictable in its boy meets girl premise, the 90-minute musical is virtually dialogue free as we follow the “Star is Born” narrative with Jamie rising in his profession (where temptation, naturally, waits) and Cathy wallows in endless casting calls that usually end in rejection.
The musical begins with a strong, haunting opening number, “Still Hurting,” where Cathy lays out the current status of her relationship. Miss Clarke sings it beautifully with all the pain and longing that comes with the death of love. It’s a show highpoint but, unfortunately, Mr. Brown’s score is very heavy on ballads and a sameness of melody seems to pervade for the rest of the evening. An odd novelty number like “The Schmuel Song” sticks out and is well sung by Mr. Halpin but goes on far too long and its central joke runs thin. Like eavesdropping on personal relationships, much of “The Last Five Years” is amusing, poignant, often moving and just a little dull.
The material here isn’t exactly fresh or revelatory, but it has been given a lovely production at Long Wharf under the graceful direction of Gordon Edelstein. Eugene Lee’s revolving set includes a floor clock that adds to the gravity of the couple’s relationship and Ben Stanton’s precise lighting gives the production a nostalgic sheen. Clarke has the stronger voice, with Halpin straining for notes here and there, but he’s still an engaging presence in the more difficult role. Together they are a believable couple and we care about their sad situation which, in the end, is what really counts. “The Last Five Years” charts the familiar but it can also serve as comfort food for the lovelorn and the romantic.
“The Last Five Years” continues at the Long Wharf Theatre through June 1. For ticket reservations call 203.787.4282 or visit: www.longwharf.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.